Great Britain? I hope so.

Eighty years ago this nation was at a crisis.  Politicians of the day worked together for the good of Britain and Europe.  The monarch was respected and brought hope to the people suffering – visiting Coventry after the horrific bombings, addressing our nation and urging us to pull together to fight against fascist powers that were oppressing the poor, the weak and the scapegoat Jews.  It was a time where national values and pride meant doing the right thing for our neighbours.

Fast forward to today.  We have in power an unelected leader who is treating our Queen with contempt, as a tool to be used as he sees fit.  We see those in high office treat our honourable institution of parliament with utter disrespect – lounging on the front benches. New scapegoats are created.  Our traditions are trampled.  Unelected oligarchs and manipulators hold powerful positions.  The similarities with the fascist regimes that “Great” Britain united to defeat are startling.

We will have a general election soon.  It will be a test.  Has our nation abandoned the values that we once held dear, and for which men and women gave their lives in our finest hour?  Or will truth and goodness prevail?  This will not be an election about Brexit, but it will be a test of what we are as a nation.  It will be a test of our values.  I hope and pray that we will choose truth, justice and honour.

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Amazon Rain-forest Fires – are we being hypocritical?

Pictures of the burning Amazon rain-forests are horrifying enough to bring despair.  Surely the world is doomed unless they stop!

Easy to say, isn’t it.  And I have found myself responding like that to the media attention.  But is that really the situation?   Is this just a smokescreen (no pun intended) to distract attention from deeper problems?  Let’s see if we can find the facts:

Carbon uptake in the Amazon is important.  The following article https://phys.org/news/2017-02-carbon-uptake-amazon-forests-region.html  points out that the carbon captured by the Amazon rainforests is equal to “four times the UK emissions for 2016”.  It is also equivalent to emissions in the region.  The nations of the Amazon are carbon neutral!

The  entire combined emissions from deforestation and fossil fuels  from the nations in the Amazon is only four times the emissions of the UK.   UK emissions are about 1% of global emissions. https://www.ucsusa.org/global-warming/science-and-impacts/science/each-countrys-share-of-co2.html .  China emissions account for 28% of global emissions.  The same site shows the emissions per person, with the top few being Saudi Arabia, USA, Australia and Canada at over 15 tonnes per person per year.  By contrast Brazil emits 2.17 tonnes per person.  France (with reference to comments from M Macron) emits twice that – and remember that France has a lot of nuclear power.

Clearly the countries of the Amazon are not the culprits in producing carbon emissions.  But consider why they are burning the forest.  They want to improve their standard of living, fulfilling a market ‘need’ for food.  And which capitalist country can argue with that?  Why do they want to improve their standard of living?  Because they are nowhere near the top. Brazil ranks 62 in the quality of life index. UK ranks 18th and USA 13th.  https://www.numbeo.com/quality-of-life/rankings_by_country.jsp

So the scale of the problem is small compared to the global emissions of the rest of the world, and the reason for the burning of the forests is to improve the standard of living of the population in the only way possible in the capitalist culture of the modern world.

And things have improved considerably in recent years.  Deforestation in the Amazon is roughly a third of what it was at the turn of the century: https://rainforests.mongabay.com/amazon/deforestation_calculations.html  and is ‘reasonably’ stable at around 80% of the 1970 levels.  This is not to say it is not important, but that perhaps most of the damage has been done.

If we in the west value the contribution that the rain-forests make to the world then we should pay for it.  We should not be sanctioning, or even threatening to invade (which I saw suggested on one site).  We pay for oil, which we then use to produce CO2 for our comfort, so we should pay those who capture our carbon.

In fact, there are mechanisms in place if we are willing to put our money where our concerns are, then we can each do something to reduce deforestation.  Here is one example: https://www.carbonfootprint.com/brazil_para_redd.html. Why not commit to offset all your personal emissions in this way? And before you ask, yes, I have – my emissions for the last 35 years.

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Parable Lives

Recommended reading:

via Parable Lives

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How should we respond to climate change? – A Christian perspective

The earth’s climate has seen dramatic change. Four and a half billion years ago, the earth was formed.  Its atmosphere had massively high levels of carbon dioxide, and there was very little oxygen.  Miraculously, life originated in this extremely hostile environment, and for the next one and a half billion years or so the cyanobacteria began cleaning up the atmosphere and enriching it with oxygen and allowing the formation of the protective ozone layer.

Over the next two billion years the beautifully designed process of evolution took those earliest forms of life and developed them into the staggering array of life that we take so readily for granted today.   Darwin hinted at the beauty of the process in the final paragraph of his book “the origin of species” when he wrote “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

So it is clear that man-made climate change will not destroy the planet, nor will it extinguish life.  But it will disrupt the extremely finely balanced ecosystem that sustains the human race.  That disruption will enlarge areas of local extinction of humans (desert regions), and in the extreme the whole planet could become unsuitable for human life.  Whilst wealthy countries are able to create local ‘microclimates’ with technology, for example air conditioning, people sentenced to live in the ‘natural’ local climate will inevitably suffer and may face extinction.  We already see an increase in suffering from natural disasters such as the cyclone Idai, and other increasingly destructive climactic events.

Greater parts of the world will become uninhabitable not just for humans, but for the cornucopia of other species who thrive in the environment that spawned us.  New species will emerge, but many of our present ‘friends’ will disappear.

The first book of the Bible describes how we were given the world to look after.  It is clear from the description above that if we don’t look after it then it will not be taken away from us, but we will be taken away from it.  This is reminiscent of the description of Adam and Eve being taken away from the Garden of Eden: the garden still thrives, but they were no longer in it.

God allows us to do things that harm us.  He doesn’t want us to, but he allows it.  Such action is called sin.  The basis of the Old Testament law was that God gave us rules that would bring us wellbeing, but our selfishness leads us to choose ways that harm ourselves and others.  Greed, lust, envy, and all the ‘sins’ damage both us and our neighbour.  Climate change is damaging to us and to our neighbour, and so the actions that leads to climate change are ‘sin’.  God permits us to damage the planet that sustains us, but it is not His will.  And disobeying the will of God is sin.  It is not good for us to do it!

There is not space here to fully discuss how we, through our actions are hurting God themselves, but we might empathise by imagining how we would feel if after giving a loved one a beautiful gift – perhaps a bunch of flowers,  we see them slowly trashing it, picking off one petal at a time.

So, how should we, as Christians, respond to the challenge of climate change?

First of all, we must recognise that it is real! (see for instance https://climate.nasa.gov/effects/)

Climate change is not the sin, but the consequence of our sin.  We need to reflect on what sins are the root cause of climate change.  Greed, selfishness, gluttony, envy will be high on our list, but a thorough examination of our lifestyle (in the context of and comparison with the other seven and a half billion people on the plant) must bring insight.

We then need to ‘repent of our sins and turn to God’.  There is surely enough evidence that we know that we are sinning, but we need to let the evidence sink into our hearts and truly convict us before we can honestly repent.  Until we reach that state then we might feel a little guilty but we will not have the power that comes from true repentance.  We need to be so convicted that we get on our knees, confess, and ask for forgiveness.

We must work with God to eliminate our sinful behaviour. We will need to be bold, counter-cultural and outrageously attractive in our approach.  We are Christ’s representatives, and our response has to mirror his character. And we must encourage our brothers and sisters to do the same.  Not only must we turn from our damaging practices, but we must do our utmost to relieve the suffering of those whose homes and livelihoods are ruined by the changing climate.  A radical change in our lifestyle must include loosening our grip on our wallets.

For example, we need to ask ourselves why we need to go to America, or China, or Australia for our holidays, for a speaking engagement, or for work.  99% of the world’s population cannot afford these luxuries – and yet many are closer to God than we are.  http://www.globalrichlist.com/

We have to challenge every decision of where we spend our money.  Should we always buy the cheapest, or should our buying decisions be made to minimise planetary damage?

We can make reparation for the damage caused by our personal sin.  We can ‘offset’ our carbon emissions, for example “Climate Stewards helps you to offset unavoidable carbon emissions by supporting community forestry, water filter and cookstove projects in the developing world”.  Some are beginning to do this for holidays or the odd long haul flight, but that is surely just lip-service.  Should we not examine our carbon emissions over our lifetime and offset them?  (see https://www.climatestewards.org/) At only £20 a tonne, many of us are in the privileged financial position to be able to do that.  There is real potential for tree planting projects to ‘buy some time’: https://www.sciencenews.org/article/planting-trees-could-buy-more-time-fight-climate-change-thought.  And churches can do the same, committing to offset past energy usage and adding carbon offset as a statutory spend each year.  It is much easier if we all make the commitment together.  Leadership from our Bishops can help here.

Those of us who live comfortably in brick houses in rural England can send financial assistance to those whose pole and dagga houses are swept away by floods or typhoon. (see https://www.christianaid.org.uk/emergencies/south-asia-floods-appeal)   As James says:  “Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, ‘Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well’—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?  So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.”  Communication is so good that we see our ‘brother or sister who has no food or clothing’ daily on our TV’s or computer screens.

We will of course fail to live up to our aspirations, but we can try. And when we fail, God’s grace will free us to try again.

And finally a thought about our legacy.  The younger generation are worried.  Environmental issues are at the top of their concerns.  And the younger generation tend not to know Christ.  We have a wonderful opportunity to bring them hope, both for a world to live in and from a God who loves them.  That is a far better legacy than bequeathing a scorching earth that is hardly able to sustain human life.

Let us be at the forefront of change, not dragging our feet but leading the way to a sustainable future.

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The blog I never wanted to write: Stage 4 Breast Cancer

From a lovely lady – deserves this to be shared

via The blog I never wanted to write: Stage 4 Breast Cancer

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We can all afford to help.

In the west, if our fence blows down we can usually afford to fix it without any worry.  In Mozambique, they have suffered a devastating cyclone, with 90% of Beira damaged or destroyed.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/19/cyclone-idai-worst-weather-disaster-to-hit-southern-hemisphere-mozambique-malawi

I was heavily involved in setting up the Casa Reom centre for street children.  It suffered severe damage.  Can you help them recover from this disaster?  Every little helps…

https://www.give.net/CycloneAppeal

 

 

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The universe is so big and has been here so long …

Big Bang was about 14 billion years ago; the universe is older and bigger than we can possibly imagine.  Dinosaurs were on the earth for over a hundred million of years, a thousand times longer than the humans have been around. And looking at the population of the world today, as an individual among 9 billion people alive, In comparison with the totality of space and time, each individual is surely completely insignificant.

But… there is an alternative.

If God exists they must be bigger than all this, and older than all this and they must have had a reason to bring the universe into being and sustain it, and to wait while the stars and planets formed and reformed, life began and evolved, and  mankind emerged and developed.  And if, as many of us believe, they sent their son to teach us and to die for us then we move from being completely insignificant to enormously significant.

But perhaps it still seems an awful lot of effort for God, too much to believe perhaps. But think about the effort that we put in to the smallest of things used for enrich a very short period of time.  Think of how much time, energy and space goes into making a simple gold ring with a diamond on it, and getting it to a shop so that someone can buy it to propose an engagement.  Just compare the size of the gold and diamond mines with the end product – let alone all the work needed to refine, shape and manufacture the ring, and to transport it to the shop.  We are pleased to do all that, God’s work just takes things to a bigger scale…

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Before the universe began.

The bowler beats the bat and the ball hits the batsman’s pad.  There is a loud appeal and the umpire calls for ‘hawkeye’ to predict where the ball was going. Hawkeye is a system that tracks the flight of the ball and predicts, using the laws of physics, where the ball would have gone if the batsman’s pad had not got in the way.  The batsman’s innings depends on the prediction.Those same laws of physics and tracked trajectory of the ball can be run in reverse, to predict where the ball came from.  The prediction will be completely accurate back until the point when the ball left the bowler’s hand.  The prediction will extrapolate back a series of parabolas, to infinity.

It’s common sense.  Hawkeye makes valid predictions where the assumptions included in the model are correct.  But where the assumptions break down, the prediction will be wrong.  So it is with all science.  Where assumptions break down then science will be wrong.  We test our assumptions where we have data – back as far almost as the beginning of the universe, but we cannot test beyond there.  And so although science can make predictions of what was before the beginning of the universe, it would be wrong to believe them.  We have to accept that we don’t know, and can never know whether there was a ‘bowler’ or whether the ball came bouncing from infinity…

The headline of the following and similar articles are therefore completely misleading

Stephen Hawking Claims To Know What Happened Before The Big Bang

although the text is more accurate: “Hawking had previously said in one of his lectures that the events that occurred before the Big Bang have no consequences that can be observed, therefore they are not defined because there is no way to measure what happened…….  Even the amount of matter in the universe can be different to what it was before the Big Bang, as the Law of Conservation of Matter, will break down at the Big Bang.”  Hawking recognised that the laws of physics ‘change’ …. allowing the existence of the ‘bowler’.

 

 

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Jesus teaching on workers pay

Jesus taught about the kingdom of God. In one example a wealthy man ensured that the workers all received enough pay for their needs, although it cost him more than it needed to. He knew that he would still have sufficient for himself.

If you are wealthy then this might be a good example to follow.

And if you are a worker, take heed too: if you are lucky enough to have a job, your needs are no different from the one who doesn’t.

The story is recorded in Matthew 20:

“For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work.

“At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing. So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. So they went to work in the vineyard. At noon and again at three o’clock he did the same thing.

“At five o’clock that afternoon he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’

“They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’

“The landowner told them, ‘Then go out and join the others in my vineyard.’

“That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. 10 When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. 11 When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, 12 ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’

13 “He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? 14 Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. 15 Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’

16 “So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.”

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Excerpt from The Big Picture: “Am I Open Minded?”

As we start out ask yourself the question, “Am I open minded, ready to follow where evidence leads, with no preconceptions?”

Now I’m sure you’ve answered “yes” because none of us would like to admit otherwise, but actually, it may be impossible to start any investigation without preconceptions.   They are the motivation behind many investigations … the desire to obtain proof of what we already think about something.

Preconceptions are almost inherent in the scientific approach – we think of a theory, and then we investigate to test it.  If we are honest, we will admit that we like our theories and feel good when they are proved right.

Perhaps there is one preconception that I will allow at this stage; that each one of us matters. I matter. You matter.  Our friends and neighbours all matter.  If we don’t matter then there is no point in anything and it’s best not to think any deeper.  That road leads to despair.

If we are going to explore these questions fully we are going to have to consider questions of God, science, reason, history and more.  We are going to have to include objective data and subjective experience; objectivity keeps us from being deluded but it is the subjective that really matters to us.

Even if we try to think about an issue with an open mind, we nevertheless carry many assumptions that we don’t realise.  Speaking personally, my scientific education and engineering career have both instilled a basic assumption of materialism: the fabric of the universe is all there is.  When people talk about a spiritual dimension, is it just another material dimension that we can’t see?  And if there is a spiritual dimension, how can it interact with the physical universe?  Or if there isn’t a separate spiritual dimension then where does God exist?  These are not straightforward questions, but I’ve come to realise that they are valid.   I have had to challenge a lot of what I took simply as common sense and to open my mind to new possibilities.

It can be difficult to refresh our way of thinking, particularly if we are surrounded by others who have a similar outlook to ourselves.  In a recent discussion on European history with a university student he mentioned that such and such country was fascist.  It led me to ask what it is that makes the people there fascist.  Is it genetically programmed into each individual there?  If you took any one of them and brought them up elsewhere would they be fascist?  I think it likely that they wouldn’t.  They are fascist because everyone around them is fascist.  They are unconsciously trained to be fascists.

So what are we doing in our country?  What are we training ourselves to think like?  What assumptions do we hold, and are they valid?  Books such as The Science Delusion by Rupert Sheldrake[i] challenge many of the assumptions of the day.  He asks us to challenge our scientific dogmas, our blind assumptions.  Even if we end up thinking the same as we did before, we have a more solid basis for our beliefs if we go through the process of challenging our assumptions.

Implications

Whenever anyone is presenting a case we might ask ourselves, “If I were to accept what is being presented and agree with the author, what would be the implications for me?  How willing would I be to accept those implications?  Do I need to understand the implications before I start?”

Many parents choose not to have their babies tested for Down’s syndrome because they would not be willing to accept a termination of the pregnancy and so feel that there is no point in knowing before the child is born.  Others might need to understand all the implications before deciding; how accurate is the test, and what are the options available if the child tests positive? Still others might insist that they must have the test because they are not prepared to risk having a child with Down’s syndrome and would terminate the pregnancy if that were shown to be likely by the test.

This is a book that deals with questions of God.  This may worry some people. If they were to be convinced that God is real they would have to become the sort of bigoted judgemental fanatic that represents the worst face of religion.  They may think that they would need to join a religion and accept all that they are told without thinking, and be associated with all the religious atrocities of the past. Or that they will have to give up their Sunday morning lie-in and trot off to church with a bunch of hypocrites. If these thoughts resonate with you, take courage – it doesn’t have to be like that.

Fear

People can be frightened by the prospect of change, but often change is beneficial.  For instance, when redundancies are announced, there is a lot of fear in the workforce.  Some may have been in the same job for thirty years, and they simply don’t know anything else – how will they cope if they have to find another job?  And yet being forced to change jobs can be a most liberating and life-changing experience.  I recall hearing a report that those who remain behind after a round of redundancies are likely to be more stressed than those who have been made redundant.  They are still in the same job, but with increased fear of losing it and still in fear of change, whereas those who have left are now busy rebuilding their new lives and careers.  That’s not to say it’s easy to change, but a change in a job or a worldview can be very liberating.

Peer Pressure

Perhaps we don’t want to change our views because of what others might think of us.  We’ve probably aired our opinions sufficiently to our friends that any major change would be an embarrassment.   Or perhaps we live or work in a culture where there is only one accepted way of thinking.  We might find that we have to live a double life, adopting one attitude at work and another in private.  For instance, to progress a career as a scientist it is necessary to publish papers and learned articles.  Such articles are subject to peer review.  This process is in place to ensure that sound scientific information is published and that mistakes do not get propagated.  But the process inherently risks that only those papers that conform to the present scientific way of thinking are published.  If a scientist becomes too free thinking, then the peer review process may prevent his papers being published and his career may come to a grinding halt.  Reputation is essential, and doing anything that might lose it is risky.

An ambitious scientist may be fearful of embracing religion.  Religion allows that God might interfere with the workings of the world.  That might mean that the universe is not completely predictable, which would seem to undermine the basis of all the work of science.  Allowing the existence of God might mean that it will be impossible to have a complete scientific theory that predicts everything – which is challenging to anyone who invests their life in seeking it.

Similarly, in religious circles it can be damaging not only to one’s career but also to one’s life to challenge the current way of thinking.  Men and women have been labelled heretics and have been burnt at the stake for holding different religious beliefs.

Religious people may have a deep fear of science.  Apart from the vocal assertions made by some atheists that science has done away with God, there can be fear that science might undermine or even disprove certain traditions or beliefs that the given religion may hold dear, or even sacred.  A religious man may have invested so much in his religion that he’s lost the desire, and maybe even the ability, to be open to learning that some of what he’s been taught is incorrect.  Yet surely a truly godly man would be desperate to be corrected if he were misunderstanding God?  In her book Awesome God, Sara Maitland encourages religious people to embrace what can be learned from science:

Start with “God exists” and everything we can learn will tell us more about God.[ii]

So returning to the question, “Am I open minded, ready to follow where evidence leads, with no preconceptions?” we can see that it is almost impossible not to have preconceptions or preconditions.  A first step in challenging them is to consider how we came to believe them in the first place. How did we come to really know what we know?

[i] Rupert Sheldrake: The Science Delusion ISBN 978-1444727944

[ii] Sara Maitland: Awesome God: Creation, Commitment and Joy ISBN: 978-0281054190

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